3 Proven Keys to Success for Recent Grads

Several years into the recession, college graduates are finding the job market tougher than ever before; to some, landing their first job out of school seems near impossible.

Consider these sobering reports:

  • In 2009, only 19.7% of college graduates were hired directly out of school; down from 26% in 2008 and 51% in 2007 (NACE)
  • The difference in pay for high school graduates and college graduates is nowhere near as significant as it has been historically (WSJ.com)
  • Those entering the workplace during a recession earn an average of 23% less than workers hired during good economic times; studies show those differences persist nearly 20 years later (DailyFinance.com)
  • The national unemployment rate for workers under 25 is currently 18.8%, almost twice the national rate for all workers (BLS)

What does this all mean? It means that college graduates today are unlikely to find a good job out of school, the work they find will pay less, and they are unlikely to ever recover that lost income.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Students can take steps to improve the likelihood of landing a good job when they graduate by developing three keys to success: skills, experience, and a professional network…

Skills Make You Employable

Problem: Graduates often lack critical, or preferred, job-related skills which prevent them from landing the job they want. College degree programs are designed to prepare students for a career not a specific job in the field. As a result, there is often a gap between what is desired by employers and what is taught in the classroom.

Solution: Look at current job postings, talk with recruiters or hiring managers, and research the latest hiring trends in the industry for the type of job you want.

What skills are the employers looking for? Use elective course credits to help give you an edge in the job market. For example, in today’s global marketplace, many employers prefer to hire workers who speak a foreign language. Another tip for those elective credits: look for applied courses over general courses. For instance, a technical writing course may prove more valuable to an engineering major than a basic English class.

Experience is Gold

Problem: Graduates often have little evidence to demonstrate their capability in the business world. Experience is the great catch-22: no one will hire you without it, and you can’t get experience if no one will hire you. That being said, there are things students can do to show their capability while still in school.

Solution: Experience can come in many different forms.

You may find that sales or management experience is a desired qualification, and there may be part-time or seasonal work that can help you satisfy that requirement. However, it’s important to remember that some of the best experience can come out of unpaid opportunities.

Internships and volunteering an be a great way to take on responsibility and show what you can do. Look to non-profits for a great source of opportunities; they have the same needs as major corporations, but they usually lack the funds to hire all the talent they need.

Stuck on campus? Take an active leadership role in a student organization; although on a much smaller scale, they work like corporations. No matter what you do, document everything. Write down where you worked, what you did, your successes, and the challenges you overcame. This journal will be a great resource when filling out an application or preparing for an interview. Also, keep any projects or reports that showcase your abilities. Being able to share your actual work product with employers carries more weight than just words.

Network, Network and Network More

Problem: College graduates lack meaningful connections to hiring professionals in their desired career. As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of jobs are filled by applicants known by or referred to the hiring manager by a trusted authority. This means the good jobs don’t make it into the classifieds; typically less than 3% of all hires come from job boards.

Solution: It’s never too soon to start building your professional network.

Many campuses host networking events with employers, recruiters, and other professionals who can help students get the job they want after graduation. Take advantage of these opportunities to begin cultivating contacts and creating relationships. Friends, family, and even fellow classmates can be a conduit to job openings as well.

Social networking sites can be a great way to manage your contacts and keep in touch, but don’t forget the value of personal interaction. The goal is to develop a relationship with people who can aid your professional development and connect you to job openings. The best advice? Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know. 

Introduce yourself, and ask for a meeting.

Even as the economy and job market in this country continue to improve, landing a great job out of school will continue to be a challenge. A college degree by itself is no longer a guarantee of success.

However, with a little thought and effort put into developing competitive skills, resume-enhancing experience, and a powerful professional network – the promise of a better future can be realized.


About the Author: With a collection of articles and advice from a host of national experts, Real Life 101 is where you go for what you need to know.  From choosing a credit card to choosing a career, Real Life 101 teaches life’s important lessons, so you don’t have to learn them the hard way.  The experts at Real Life 101 have received national attention for their engaging content, and in early 2012, they will be launching sites specifically designed for students at colleges and universities across the country.


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